On Making Sense of Terrible Things


I remember as a kid of ten or eleven, reading a news item about another kid who was about the same age as me. At school, the day before, he had been running around the playground at breaktime. A lead roof tile from the main school building had been loosened by the wind. It flew off and struck the boy on the head.

He was killed instantly.

The newspaper described it as a “tragic accident” – that it was just “one of those things”.

I remember at the time having difficulty with this. It all seemed so meaningless and pointless. Why did it happen to that kid – or any kid – or why did it even happen in the first place?

I remember for days afterwards being afraid at school. I didn’t run around at breaktimes. I stayed close to walls. I was frightened. I kept thinking about the little boy.

Then about a week later, I came across a second news item.

This one was about a couple of policemen who had stopped their car on the hard-shoulder of a motorway. Maybe it was to do some paperwork, or do some observation work, or just kill some time – who knows?

Someone traveling in the opposite direction, on the other side of the motorway, lost control of his vehicle. It hit the central reservation, somersaulted over it and ended up landing on top of the police car.

Again, both officers were killed instantly.

And again, the newspaper described it as one of those things that just happen. We never know what’s coming – that such events are just part of life – and that’s all there is to it.

Had it not been for the second event, I would probably have forgotten the first. But the fact that they followed so closely seemed to cement them into my memory.

I couldn’t help thinking about the chances of these two things “just happening”? A second or two difference in time and that little boy and those policemen would not have been precisely where they were when disaster struck.?

Where was the sense in it?

Where was the reason or purpose?

In later years, these two events would help me to arrive at some kind of answers to such questions – when they arose.

But at the time, of course, I was much too young to sort out my confusion. Too young to understand that there had to be some kind of sense to it all. Some kind of reason or purpose.

If not, then how truly meaningless and pointless it all really was?

And even if we can’t find answers for some of the terrible things which life throws at us, maybe that’s because they’re so great and so vast, that they’re simply beyond our comprehension in this life.

But in the end, one way or another, it will all make sense. This must be so. It has to be.

This is my blind faith.

This is where I go when I need to make sense of terrible things.

My prayers and condolences to the people of Newtown, Connecticut, USA.

Now is not the time for blame or recriminations – but rather silence, support and solace.

Self-Educated American Guest Columnist, Chris Clancy, lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics. Copyright © 2012 Chris Clancy. Used with Permission.

Self-Educated American recommends Milton Friedman’s, Free to Choose: A Personal Statement